Take a look in your handbag – chances are it’s stuffed full with a purse, mobile phone, keys, umbrella, diary, make-up bag, book, water bottle etc. It’s no surprise that the average handbag weighs nearly half a stone and that almost half of women have experienced pain from carrying heavy handbags. You might not notice it but your body dramatically adapts and compensates for the load of a heavy bag – the adaptations being even more pronounced if you’re wearing high heels.
When you carry a heavy bag, your neck naturally leans away from the load to help carry and balance the weight. This causes tension on the carrying side of the neck with the pressure of the strap pressing on the nerves on this side, and the non-carrying side is compressed risking a pinching of the brachial plexus – the bundle of nerves supplying the arm.
The shoulder bearing the load is rotated backwards and held elevated, which creates a tension pattern in the muscles of the shoulder girdle and into the upper back. The compensatory lean away from the loaded side puts a side-bending strain on the lumbar spine – stressing the discs and facet joints.
The uneven gait pattern resulting from all of the above can, over time, strain the hips, knees, ankles and feet (already compromised by those high heels?)
So how best to shoulder the load? Getting a smaller handbag is the simplest solution – you simply can’t stuff so much stuff into it! If you are not prepared to reduce the inventory of your bag, then a bum-bag or rucksack arrangement is best. Not acceptable? Try and use a bag with a wide strap to spread the load over the shoulder. Make sure you swap the load from side to side to rest the muscles. If possible use a bag with a strap that crosses the body diagonally, balancing the weight more centrally over the spine, but avoid over-long straps which allow the bag to swing around – the momentum of a swinging bag adds extra strain.
And don’t think using a clutch bag or traditional handbag hung from the crook of you arm or from the forearm is any better – this just carries the load even further away from the central support of the spine and the body’s centre of gravity, adding to the strain, and leading to rapid tiring of the arm muscles in addition to those of the shoulder and back.
Are you sure you can’t jettison some of that stuff?